I didn’t grow up thinking, “Oh, someday I want to start a lung cancer research foundation!” But life has a funny way of throwing you unexpected curve balls that can change the best-laid plans in a nanosecond.
I am Kim Norris and I am the Co-Founder and President of the Lung Cancer Foundation of America (LCFA). In 1999, I lost my husband, Roy, to lung cancer when he was 47 years old after we waged a two-year battle trying everything possible to save his life.
After building our lives together for 20 years, and making all sorts of wedding plans, we were married in the hospital just a few days before Christmas in 1999. Roy and I legalized our 20 year marriage 40 hours before lung cancer took him away from me.
Roy and I met when we were both in our early twenties. I was a successful consultant traveling all around the world working with and coaching CEO’s and senior teams of fortune 500 companies to become more profitable and effective…it seemed important at the time. Roy, the consummate entrepreneur, owned a digital imaging company started by his father. We were happy, successful and living a good life.
He was a healthy, active and vivacious 45-year-old man when it happened. Roy developed a pain in his upper back that they treated for 9 months as a pulled muscle. He then lost his voice, which his doctors unsuccessfully treated with antibiotics. After visiting an Ear Nose and Throat specialist we were told he needed a simple outpatient surgery procedure to fix a problem on his vocal cord…another misdiagnosis. The only thing this procedure did was identify a mass on his right lung, discovered by taking an x-ray in preparation for the outpatient surgery. I will never forget that Friday afternoon which changed my life forever… Roy had stage IV lung cancer.
For the next two months we went through the motions of living. In a total state of shock we went from doctor to doctor only to continuously be told the same thing…there was nothing anyone could do… go off to Italy and enjoy what short life you have left. We were even told that if we lived in Canada under socialized medicine Roy would not be eligible to receive treatment because of the terminal nature of his disease.
It was not until we met with the incredible doctors and researchers at the UCLA Lung Cancer Program that anyone gave us even the slightest bit of hope. We spent the next two years of our lives together trying to fight this ugly disease called lung cancer. Roy underwent 5 different clinical trials on what we call the roller coaster ride of living with cancer. A treatment starts to work….then it doesn’t ….then you qualify for another promising treatment, it works, it doesn’t work, etc, etc, etc. Two weeks before Roy passed away, his brother asked him if he would do it all again, all of the treatments and experiments and drugs. Roy did not hesitate in answering yes. He felt it bought him quality time to be with the people he loved.
After 2 years, at the age of 47, Roy lost his battle with lung cancer. I tried to resume my former life as a successful consultant, but I could not do it. Too much in me had changed, my priorities, my values and the way I viewed the preciousness of life.
In 2007, I founded the Lung Cancer Foundation of America with two survivors, Lori Monroe and David Sturges. In the years since, we’ve built an organization dedicated to eradicating lung cancer through research. The next five years should bring many exciting developments, both for LCFA and for the world of lung cancer research, as we continue to discover more about the disease’s origins and how to detect, diagnose, and treat it more effectively. My dream is that no family has to go through what mine did with Roy.
Nothing will bring my Roy back, but if I can make difference in one other person’s life, then that is what keeps me going. Sharing this story has not been easy, even though it has been many years since his passing, but I hope those of you who have also lost a loved one will read it and ask yourself, “What can I do to make a difference to change the course of this disease?” Please know that you can make a difference. In fact, it’s in your hands. I know it’s not easy and even painful at times, but if not us, the survivors who have lost loved ones, then who?